And, they arrre, OFF! In this two-horse race for domination of the Scottish media headlines we have Alex Salmond, a 57-year-old gelding who had been expecting to have the field to himself, and Rangers football club, a late entry who has been told it could be off to the knacker’s yard tomorrow.
Salmond has been training for this moment ever since he was invited to attend the Leveson Inquiry. The flat race of two miles was expected to be just the right length for him, giving the affable champion from 2007 and 2011 enough time to break into his stride and answer all the tough questions in his usual smiling and charming manner.
There was a great deal of expectation in the stands as punters placed their bets on whether or not he might have had his telephone hacked by the big stable of News International, the alleged fixer of elections that has been accused of tampering with the voicemail of many celebrities, politicians and even murder victims.
The canny Scot, who knows a thing or two about horse racing, had teased everyone with an uncharacteristic silence about his moby that led to much speculation: “was he, wasn’t he?”.
The rumours were rife that Salmond might have been slipped a mutton pie or an extra-hot curry before the race to throw him off his form but within the first furlong he had stretched his hoofs and showed his class.
The late entry of Rangers could not have been foreseen for it was expected that the 140-year-old club solved its financial problems when it was bought by the mysterious and ironically named Green Consortium. Owning millions to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs as well as hun’reds of thousands to other stables such as Hertz in Midlothian and Goodnight Vienna, a technicality called a CVA was expected to be approved until HMRC said it would rather call in the vet and have Rangers put down.
This mercy killing, said by HMRC to be in the interests of everyone owed money, suddenly threatened to defeat Salmond in his race to dominate the media and on Wednesday all the papers had indeed turned to Rangers.
To add to the mix all sorts of punters started putting their oar in, or even their boot – Mike Reilly, chairman of Hibs Supporters Association called for Rangers to be expelled from the SPL if it was put down.
It might normally be thought that a dead horse can’t race no more, but Green and his fellow bookies have a cunning plan of which Baldrick would be proud, creating a new zombie-like Rangers – without it the “aye ready” Rangers might never be ready again.
A new coach called Dr Frankenstein is believed to have some revolutionary training methods that can bring old corpses back to life so long as there’s lightning in the air and a bolt in the neck to connect the incapacitors to. “It’s alive” is expected to be the new chant at Ibrox – if it isn’t taken over by the HMRC in lieu of payment and turned into a supermarket first.
All this rumination and speculation had led to massive coverage at the expense of Salmond – no-one could tell who would be on the most front pages on Thursday morning and dominate the TV and radio news bulletins.
As the race neared a close with Rangers now taking the lead, Salmond pulled a surprise by calling on all phone hackers to be hunted down no matter which stable they were from – and in a gallop to the finish announced how he had never been hacked by News International and its owners, Murdoch and Murdoch – but had found his bank account rifled by no other than those paragons of virtue at the Grauniad stable through their old Sunday warhorse, The Observer.
Grooms did not know where to look as suddenly Rangers was trailing by a furlong. Salmond had done it again, the coy tease had all been about springing the surprise just before the end to grab the headlines.
Rangers were left limping home behind Salmond, with fewer front pages and even less sympathy. The race stewards pulled the covers around as the vets walked over to administer the shot that would bring tears and whoops of delight in unequal measure.
Afterwards rivals horses were bolting in the panic, asking for a stewards’ enquiry. The new foal, Babe Ruth, wanted to know how the Murdochs’ Sunday Sun had got wind of the referendum date for 2014? Was it just circumstance that the paper had been granted a centre-fold with Salmond in all his morning glory on the same day?
Others thought it was a fix and wanted a dope test but the only dopes were the punters and politicians that thought Salmond would fall at the Leveson hurdle. They had forgotten it was a flat race and in truth had an easy canter from the off.